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Guardian wonder kid, last Indian Arrow: Can Suhail Bhat take ISL by storm?

17-year-old Suhail Bhat of Kashmir was recently named as a wonder kid by British daily The Guardian. Currently without a club after the disbanding of Indian Arrows, he is one of the most tracked youngsters by ISL scouts.

Guardian wonder kid, last Indian Arrow: Can Suhail Bhat take ISL by storm?

Suhail Bhat scored on his India U-16 debut vs UAE last year. (AIFF)


Irshad Hussain

Updated: 8 Oct 2022 12:55 PM GMT

As the ISL 2022/23 season kicked off on Friday night, on opposite sides of the match were Jeakson Singh (Kerala Blasters) and Amarjit Singh (East Bengal), two friends who had been one of the earliest successes of the Indian Arrows Project.

The Arrows project unearthed several Indian talents in the last five years, and just before it was disbanded this year, it produced one final talent who has caught global attention.

17-year-old Suhail Ahmed Bhat, a striker from Kashmir, was recently included by British publication The Guardian among the top 60 young talents in the world - alongside names like Mathys Tel, the youngest goal scorer in Bayern Munich's history.

"There are high hopes that the 17-year-old will eventually be the long-term successor of India's striking legend Sunil Chhetri because he is willing to run at defenders and is full of self-belief," wrote John Duerden, The Guardian's Asian correspondent, last month.

Currently without a club, Bhat is on the radar of several ISL clubs already as they look to make an early swoop on the 'next Chhetri'. But the 17-year-old is trying to stay grounded.

"I am honoured to be mentioned among some of the world's top football talents. Most of the players on that list are already with major teams. It's also an honour to be compared to Sunil Chhetri, who is the inspiration for everyone in Indian football. I need to put in all my efforts to reach close to his level," Bhat told The Bridge.

Mehrajuddin Wadoo, one of the few players from Jammu and Kashmir to have played for India in recent decades, said Bhat's mention as one of the wonder kids of the future is great news for the state but that the road ahead could be bumpy.

"Suhail Bhat has given a special piece of news to football lovers in the Kashmir Valley. He has grown by leaps and bounds after being fast-tracked into the Sports Council Football Academy in 2017. But there is cut-throat competition in Indian football, he has to work hard," Wadoo told The Bridge.

Why Suhail was sent away from Kashmir by his coaches

Suhail Bhat is a rare footballer from Kashmir to have been catapulted into the spotlight at an early age. While the state still lacks enough professional coaches and world-standard football grounds, the 17-year-old was lucky to have found support in his school set-up.

"The Shah-I-Hamdan school in Bemina played a pivotal role in his career. School authorities helped him go for practice sessions. He played against senior players in the state football league's Premier Division, thus proving he is good enough for an India call-up at the U16 level," said Suhail Bhat's cousin Tasaduk Hussain.

It was last year that Bhat played for the India U16 team, making his debut against the United Arab Emirates, scoring the 79th minute winner in a 1-0 win.

This was validation for Bhat's coaches, who had sent him to the Indian Arrows because they thought the AIFF had a much better atmosphere for a budding footballer than the other Kashmiri clubs who were vying for his signature.

Both Suhail Bhat and his father Mohammed Abdullah, a 39-year-old labourer, stressed on the need for improving football infrastructure in Kashmir.

"Kashmir has a lot of talent and can produce hundreds of Suhails, but we need infrastructure and coaches," said Abdullah.

His son, who has somehow come through despite the system, pointed to a gaping problem.

"In Kashmir, there is only one ground in Sringar - the TRC ground - with proper facilities. We need a number of grounds in several parts of the state, so that Srinagar does not remain the only place where Kashmiris can play football," said Suhail Bhat.

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